I’m always thrilled to have Dave Zeltserman on the blog, and today he stopped by to talk about his brand new book, The Boy Who Killed Demons! Just in time for Halloween, too!
Will you tell us a little about your new book, THE BOY WHO KILLED DEMONS?
Demons is written as a journal by a 15 year-old high school student, Henry Dudlow, and it chronicles his struggles to keep the world safe from demons. When Henry was 13 he was a normal, outgoing kid, but then he started seeing certain people as demons, and things change dramatically for him. After convincing himself that these really are demons, he sets about to determine what the demons are up to, and when he discovers that they’re trying to open the gates to hell, he has to do whatever it takes to stop them.
Henry Dudlow is only 15 years old. What made you decide to write such a young protagonist, and why do you think readers will root for him?
Some ideas for my books come from newspaper stories, others just pop into my head. With The Caretaker of Lorne Field, the idea was what if there’s a mythology that no one believes in anymore except the caretaker, and that this caretaker must weed a field every day or the world will end? With it was what if a high school kid is the only one who can see demons for what they are and ends up having to do really bad things to save the world? Once the idea took root and I started playing a bunch of what-if games, I had a book that I needed to write.
Henry’s power and resulting responsibility is a terrible one, especially for a 15 year-old to have to carry. Not surprisingly, at times he comes off as angry, sarcastic, and aloof, but ultimately he’s heroic, and the sacrifices he makes to save the world are heartbreaking, and I think it will be hard for readers not to care about him.
What kind of research did you do for the book?
Research for me is very variable, and differs greatly from book to book. For example, I spent over nine months researching Monster, while other books required only hours, and still other books (Pariah, for example) I spent years absorbing newspaper stories about the subject before writing the book. While I didn’t spend much time specifically researching Demons, as with Pariah, a lot of personal experience worked its way into the book. As a kid I read a lot of HP Lovecraft, and while stylistically and tonally, Demons is very different than Lovecraft, there are still certain Lovecraft influences. Also, I wanted the writing of this book to be more personal than my other books, and I wanted to more identify with my protagonist, Henry Dudlow, and I did this by having him live in the same neighborhood where I grew up, going to the same high school, doing many of the same things I did—like riding my bike into Boston to the same used bookstore that Henry goes to.
You write crime and horror with equal aplomb. Is it tough to switch between genres? Do you have to get into a completely different mindset?
It’s kind of funny, but some of my crime noir novels are far more horrifying and brutal than my horror novels. That’s because my crime noir protagonists tend to be delusional, broken individuals who leave death and destruction wherever they go, while my horror protagonists tend to be heroic characters. So with me there’s definitely a blurring between my crime and horror fiction, where many of my crime novels could also be looked at as horror, just with human monsters instead of supernatural ones. Now with the lighthearted and charming Julius Katz mysteries that I write for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, I definitely have to work to get into the right mindset before I write those.
What do you like to see in a good story? Is there something that will make you put a book down, unfinished?
A good story needs to fully absorb the reader into the fictional world that it creates. Something that feels false or unnatural to this fictional world can make me put a book down. As long as the characters act consistently and the fictional world operates consistently, the fictional dream can be maintained and the reader can be carried along.
If someone were to ask you to recommend one of the scariest books you’ve ever read, which one would it be?
I’ll recommend Hell of a Woman by Jim Thompson. This is a crime noir novel, not horror, but Thompson wrote crazies better than almost anyone, and he had a true gift of sucking you into his characters’ private hells—making you think his protagonists are simply normal guys having some bad luck, until he slowly unveils just how unreliable, damaged and crazy these characters are. Hell of a Woman was the first Thompson book I read, and it was an unsettling experience where I started wondering what the hell I got myself into.
You’re no newbie when it comes to writing the scaries, but what’s something that truly terrifies you?
Interesting question. In Orwell’s 1984 every citizen is programmed to have something that truly terrifies them, something that can be used to break them. With 1984’s hero, Winston Smith, it was having a cage with hungry rats attached to his face. So I’ll go with that—having a rat cage attached to my face. Or maybe dental hygienists. Either one works.
It’s been a while since we caught up! Have you read any good books lately?
I recently finished The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster, which is a collection of three literary mystery novels (or at least seemingly mystery novels): City of Glass, Ghosts, The Locked Room. All three involve a detective of sorts who risk losing their identities and their very selves in the cases they take on. All three also involve writers who are also in jeopardy of losing themselves in their work. A very interesting collection that takes the mystery novel to an existential level, and I liked it quite a bit—enough where I’ll be looking for more of Auster’s work.
What’s next for you?
I’ve recently optioned several novels for film, and I think there’s a good chance a couple of them will be made next year. I’ve got a bunch of short stories coming out over the next year, including a couple of new Julius Katz mysteries that will be in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. I’m also collecting the first 6 published Julius Katz mysteries which have won a bunch of awards, adding an original novella, and will be putting this out in the next few months as a self-published paperback and ebook. Finally, I’ve written a new horror novel which I hope to see published.
About THE BOY WHO KILLED DEMONS:
“My name’s Henry Dudlow. I’m fifteen and a half. And I’m cursed. Or damned. Take your pick. The reason? I see demons.”
So begins the latest novel by horror master Dave Zeltserman. The setting is quiet Newton, Massachussetts, where nothing ever happens. Nothing, that is, until two months after Henry Dudlow’s 13th birthday, when his neighbor, Mr. Hanley, suddenly starts to look . . . different. While everyone else sees a balding man with a beer belly, Henry suddenly sees a nasty, bilious, rage-filled demon.
Once Henry catches onto the real Mr. Hanley, he starts to see demons all around him, and his boring, adolescent life is transformed. There’s no more time for friends or sports or the lovely Sally Freeman—instead Henry must work his way through ancient texts and hunt down the demons before they steal any more innocent children. And if hunting demons is hard at any age, it’s borderline impossible when your parents are on your case, and your grades are getting worse, and you can’t tell anyone about your chosen mission.